The Rt. Hon. Sir John Major KG CH

Prime Minister of Great Britain and Northern Ireland 1990-1997

1992Prime Minister (1990-1997)

Mr Major’s Commons Statement on President Yeltsin – 3 February 1992

Below is the text of Mr Major’s statement to the House of Commons on 3rd February 1992 on President Yeltsin and the UN Security Council.


The Prime Minister (Mr John Major): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement about President Yeltsin’s visit to London on 30 January and about the special meeting of the UN Security Council in New York on 31 January. I was accompanied to New York by my right hon. Friend the Foreign and Commonwealth Secretary. Both meetings came at an important time in Russia’s relationship with the rest of the world and at a critical time for world peace and stability. Russia has, in President Yeltsin’s own words, thrown off the shackles of communism. She remains a nuclear super-power. As such, and as one of the five permanent members of the Security Council, she has world responsibilities. It is essential for our own peace and security that Russia continues to play the positive role on which President Gorbachev embarked and which President Yeltsin is set to continue and to develop. I believe that we should offer them our support in this.

I called the meeting in New York during our chairmanship of the Security Council so that the council could meet at the highest level to reaffirm and develop its commitment to peacekeeping and peacemaking. The timing was particularly apt following the appointment of a new Secretary-General and with Russia taking the seat in the Security Council formerly held by the Soviet Union. The meeting was successful, and I should like to highlight the key points.

This was the first time in the 47 years of its history that the UN had met at the top level. For the first time ever, the Heads of State and Government of the United States, Russia, China, France and Britain sat around the same table and pledged themselves, with the other members of the council, to collective security, to international law and to our commitments under the United Nations’ charter.

A statement was agreed by all the members of the Security Council. Copies are in the Library of the House. In it we reaffirmed that all disputes between states should be resolved peacefully in accordance with the provisions of the charter. We committed ourselves to the fight against terrorism. We asked the Secretary-General to make recommendations for a more effective role for the United Nations as peacekeeper and as peacemaker. Under article 99 of the charter, the Secretary-General may bring to the attention of the Security Council any matter which, in his opinion, may threaten the maintenance of international peace and security. We hope the new Secretary-General will use those powers. He will report to us within six months with his recommendations. We committed ourselves to arms control, disarmament and non-proliferation and to the conclusion of a chemical weapons convention this year. The council endorsed the idea put forward by the British Government, and recently endorsed by the General Assembly, of a UN register of conventional arms transfers. During his visit to London, President Yeltsin noted that Britain had been the first country to denounce the August coup, and the first to recognise Russia; the first to propose Russian membership of the International Monetary Fund; the first to propose an April deadline for that membership; and the first to support a stabilisation fund for the rouble.

It is essential that Russia join the IMF at the earliest opportunity, and I believe that a stabilisation fund may need to follow if Russia is to have a prospect of establishing a successful market economy. There is, of course, a financial cost in this, but the cost of failure and a return to dictatorship and the cold war would be infinitely higher. It is in our national interest and in the interests of the west as a whole to help Russia, and we shall continue to take a lead in doing so. I undertook to make it one of the priorities of our presidency of the European Community later this year to carry through an improved trade and co-operation agreement with Russia.

In our discussion of arms control issues, President Yeltsin committed Russia to further significant reductions in the Russian strategic and international arsenal. I told him that we had already committed ourselves to a cut of one half in our sub-strategic nuclear weapons and to smaller conventional forces. I told him also that Britain’s only strategic weapon would be the minimum deterrent constituted by Trident.

President Yeltsin accepted that Trident was indeed a minimum deterrent and that the focus of arms control negotiations should be on the arsenal of the two super-powers. We agreed to co-operate in handling surplus Soviet weapons and in safeguarding nuclear materials. I offered to send a technical mission to Moscow to assess the immediate needs at first hand. I have also offered to send a small number of officials from the Ministry of Defence to the Russian Ministry of Defence to advise on the restructuring and control and financing of armed forces in a democratic society. We discussed the problem of the possible leakage of expertise from Russia in the field of weapons of mass destruction. President Yeltsin has made proposals for handling this problem, and we have offered our help as part of an international effort. The President and I agreed to establish a secure telephone link between our two offices. This is not meant as a crisis hot-line ; it will enable us to conduct the significant amount of business we have to undertake.

We signed a joint declaration–the text of which is in the Library of the House–on relations between our two countries. It will form the basis of a treaty which the President and I hope to sign during the official visit to Britain which he will make later this year. It will be the first such treaty since 1766.

This is a time of great hope in international affairs, but also of uncertainty and potential instability. The two meetings on which I have reported to the House have shown our determination to work for a safer world and a new partnership with Russia in the cause of peace.